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Young Investors Must Put Career First

NEW BERLIN, Ill. (TheStreet) -- As you begin your career, you're probably inundated with messages about how you should begin setting money aside in your company's 401(k) or other retirement plan, along with admonitions to start an emergency fund, set aside money to buy a house and even think about the little ones that come along and their eventual college expenses.

And of course all of this saving and investing competes for a limited paycheck. You're doing well to just get the rent and car payments paid on time, and everyone around you thinks you should be putting half your paycheck into savings!

If you're required to be at your desk at 8 a.m., get there at 7:30 a.m. and use the time to get ahead at work. Your career is your most powerful investment you can make.

This article isn't about all of that. Though those things are important, there's another category of investment you may not have thought about that is probably more important in the long run than any of the traditional activities -- and will likely provide you with the means to attend successfully to those other categories.

Your career is your most powerful investment you can make. Properly attended to, your career can provide you with an ever-increasing salary that will help you with most all financial aspects of your life. A well-developed set of working skills will pay off in your job as well as help weather the most dire situations. Here are a few areas that are important to invest your time:

Current job
There is always a way to enhance your standing at work. If you're required to be at your desk at 8 a.m., get there at 7:30 a.m. And when you get there, be careful to not spend the extra time simply making coffee, checking your favorite websites or gossiping with your co-workers; use the extra time to complete a project early or compile that report your boss has been asking for.

When the gang from the office has plans to go out for a cocktail Friday afternoon, don't leave early ... spend some time planning those extra things you'll take on in your early moments for next week. Then go join the gang and blow off a little steam. Just don't overdo it: You want to make yourself noticed at work, but not for how many shots you can do.

Over time you will tip the balance in your favor. The boss will need you as much as you need him.

Future jobs
If you're putting extra effort and time into your current job, opportunities will begin to develop for you. Keep your eyes and ears open for them and make sure your boss and others in authority around you know you're open to learning things and taking on additional responsibilities.

Education
You've likely just completed 16 to 20 years of formal education, and you're looking forward to not having to do more ... but you've also probably heard this one before: Education is a lifelong process. You owe it to yourself to continue with your education, but with a full-time job and the rest of your life taking up most of your time, it won't be quite the same as college.

Look into nondegree-related training in areas that will enhance your current job, or begin the process toward an advanced degree (such as a master's, if you have a bachelor's). Or consider looking into other educational pursuits that enhance your balance in life, such as creative endeavors. All education, related to your current career or not, will likely help you in unexpected ways in the future.

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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